Good summaries connect the ideas being summarized to the purpose of your paper
As David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen explain, all academic writing has a “thinking component and an information component” (Writing Analytically 7th ed. 75). Skilled writers use summary to convey the information, theories, and observations they want their readers to think about.
“Summarizing,” Rosenwasser and Stephen write, “is basically a translation process.” You’ll have to work to understand what you’re reading to summarize it in your own words.
Rosenwasser and Stephen offer some useful questions that can help you write fair and accurate summaries:
- Which of the ideas in the reading are most significant? Why?
- How do these ideas fit together?
- What do the key passages in the reading mean?
A good summary of a writer’s work will fairly and accurately represent their ideas in a way that a) the writer themself would agree was fair and accurate and b) enable a reader who is not familiar with their work to understand it without having to read it themselves.
To achieve these goals, you will need to use examples and explanation as well as direct quotation and paraphrase in your summary. Be sure to explain any of the writer’s ideas you think your reader may find confusing or hard-to-accept. As the authors of They Say/I Say advise, be sure to use “signal verbs that fit the action” whenever you quote or paraphrase any material from writers you are summarizing (39). I highly recommend using the lists of signal verbs on pages 40-41 of They Say/I Say to help you choose effective signal verbs.
As you read in They Say/I Say, a good summary will also have a “focus or spin that allows the summary to fit with your own agenda” (34). A good summary doesn’t stand alone or just deliver information. A reader of your summary of someone else’s ideas should be able to use it as material to think with about a point you want to make or an idea you want to advance.
You might be able to construct a good summary of a writer’s argument in two or three chunky paragraphs, but not in a few sentences or a single paragraph.